“Most Iraqis believe the Islamic State was created by the United States.”
This observation was made not by a conspiracy theorist, but by an Orthodox priest who along with his whole Christian village was forced to flee Daesh (as the Islamic State is known by Iraqis) into the safe haven of Kurdistan. He told me this on Wednesday as we spoke in a Kurdish village in the mountains of far-north Iraq, not far from the Iraqi-Turkish border. I had come here to learn of the condition of the Christian refugees and to explore ways to help the Christian Church in exile.
To American ears, the charge that the U.S. created Daesh is absurd. To Iraqis, it has a compelling logic. In their minds, we are the creators of their current reality; for better or worse, we made the State of Iraq as it exists today. We are said to have allowed Daesh to occupy Mosul (a city of 1.5 million taken over by 3000), and they think we can eliminate Daesh easily if we really wanted to. “How long did it take the U.S. to defeat Saddam Hussain? A month? And he had a powerful army.”
But most disappointing about the Abba’s charge is his belief that our policy in the Middle East is entirely motivated by the desire to work our will in the region. “You promised us democracy. Where is the democracy?” If Iraq is today not democratic, the reasoning goes, that is because we never wanted it to be democratic; we wanted it to be compliant. It does not help our case that the U.S. installed the kleptocratic former Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Nor does it help that supplies intended for Yazidis on Mount Sinjar dropped onto Islamic State controlled territory. “See, you are supplying Daesh.” I was told. QED.
The good news is that the Christian refugees who made it to Kurdistan are in a safe place. Their condition is grim by our standards, but they are being fed, housed, clothed, and the children schooled. Asked what more they want, the consistent response is just one thing: “to go home.” And they wonder: when will the U.S. liberate Iraq?
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Steve Wagner is the founder and president of QEV Analytics, a Washington DC -based public opinion research firm.